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20 Facts about Lyon, France

Updated on April 17, 2014
Source

Lyon is the third-largest city in France. Lyon (sometimes Lyons in English) is situated at the point where the turbulent Rhône River from the Alps and the slower-moving Saône River from Burgundy unite to flow south to the Mediterranean Sea in a lowland corridor between the Alps and the Massif Central. The city spreads over a peninsula between the Saône and the Rhône and over the rivers' further banks.

1. Especially along the Rhône, stone embankments protect the city, providing stately tree-shaded promenades, frequently crowded with lines of automobiles fighting their way across the hill and river barriers that compartmentalize the city.

Cathedral of St. John
Cathedral of St. John | Source
Nôtre Dame Basilica
Nôtre Dame Basilica | Source

2. The most formidable barrier is in the west, where the Fourvière ridge, capped by the bizarre Nôtre Dame Basilica (1871–1894), rises steeply from the Saône. Here too are relics of the Roman city, including the Theater and Odeon.

3. Crowded between the foot of the Fourvière ridge and the Saône is Old Lyon, where the Cathedral of St. John rises from narrow streets lined by splendid Renaissance houses, once the homes of wealthy lawyers and merchants.

4. The present city center is in the low-lying peninsula above the Rhône-Saône confluence. At the heart of the city is the Place des Terreaux, overlooked by the fine Hôtel de Ville (City Hall), dating in its present form from the 17th century.

5. On the south side of the square the Art Museum occupies the 17th-18th century Palais St. Pierre.

6. The streets leading to the larger Place Bellecour to the south are lined with the banks, the stock exchange, offices, shops, and entertainment facilities of the greatest regional capital in provincial France.

Place Bellecour
Place Bellecour | Source

7. The 18th-century Hôtel de Villeroy houses an outstanding textile museum. Croix Rousse hill, a maze of narrow streets and of the vaulted passages known as traboules, rises to the north of Place des Terreaux. This was formerly the quarter of the silk weavers.

8. A garden surrounds the Roman Amphitheater of the Three Gauls, where St. Blandina was martyred in 177.

9. On the east bank of the Rhône are the prefecture and the old university buildings, succeeded northward by the splendid Tête d'Or park and the Cité Internationale, a new development hub designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano. To the east sprawls the main residential expansion. There is located the retailing and administrative district of La Part Dieu, developed in the 1970s.

Jean Moulin University in Lyon
Jean Moulin University in Lyon | Source

10. The Cité Internationale was built on the site of the former International Fair Hall of Lyon, which was moved to the suburb of Chassieu in the 1980s.

11. The city's two universities have been provided with new campuses on the fringe of the city.

12. Urban expansion continues beyond the city limits into Villeurbanne (2008 est. pop., 141,106) and other rapidly growing, but administratively distinct, communes.

13. Lyon, a crucial link between northern and southern France, stands astride the high-speed rail and expressway routes between Paris and the Mediterranean, at a point where routes also diverge west into the Massif Central, east to Geneva and the Alps, and northeast to Lorraine and the Rhine River.

14. Tunnels beneath Croix Rousse and Fourvière have eased the expressways' path into the city. River navigation downstream on the Rhône has been improved by the construction of a sequence of power and irrigation dams. Construction of the Pierre Bénite Dam at Lyon facilitated access to the Édouard Herriot river port and to the Saône waterway. The Lyon international airport lies east of the city.

15. The traditional silk industry, once concentrated in the city, was dispersed over the surrounding countryside in the 19th century. Lyon remained the organizing center and produces luxury silks as well as other textiles and clothing to this day.

16. Stimulated initially by the demands of the textile industry, Lyon became one of the greatest French centers of the chemical industry. Pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, and information technology are other important sectors.

17. The city is also one of the principal French engineering centers, with plants producing heavy trucks, machine tools and other industrial equipment.

18. Lyon has given its name to one of the greatest French banks (Crédit Lyonnais) and is a major commercial center, the site of numerous international conventions.

19. A number of international organizations, including Interpol and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (a branch of the World Health Organization), have their headquarters in Lyon.

20. During the 19th century, railways arrived, and Lyon became a modern commercial and industrial city. After World War II, during which Lyon had been the acknowledged "Capital of the Resistance," rapid growth resumed, and the city was selected as one of the eight French regional metropolises to be developed as counterweights to the influence of Paris.

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